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Our Family History: How O&H Danish Bakery Got Its Start

By Eric Olesen - 3rd generation owner

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Anton and Kids old family photo How does a small family bakery become a leading supplier of Kringles throughout the country?  For over seven decades and many generations, our bakery has remembered its roots and held on to the methods that our family used from the beginning.  Sometimes we like to reflect on how we got where we are, why it all started and the sacrifices that our family members made to create our successful Danish bakery.  Read on to learn how our family came here from Denmark — and how a flaky pastry known as Kringle shaped our destiny.

Danes in America

viking ship illustration The United States is home to many citizens of Scandinavian descent, including the Danish.  In the 1840s in Denmark, times were hard.  The population was growing, the job market was stagnating, and a tradition still dominated:  leaving land to just one child.  These issues left many individuals with no land and no employment, prompting them to leave home and head for the U.S.

The journey was long and difficult; travelers often faced food shortages, cramped quarters and health issues.  The first immigrants to arrive settled along the East Coast, while many of those who arrived later made their way into the Midwest and beyond.  In the late 1800s, large numbers of Danes made their homes in Wisconsin — in fact, 10% of all Danish Americans call Racine, Wisconsin home.

Rubjerg Knude lighthouse in Lokken Denmark Back home in Denmark, the struggle intensified, eventually changing the world of baking for good.  In 1850, Danish bakers famously went on strike, demanding cash payment instead of just room and board.  Lacking workers, bakery owners hired skilled foreigners, many of whom were Austrian.  It turned out that many of these Austrian bakers had a flair for making Kringles — flaky, buttery, layered pastries with delectable fillings.  When Danish bakers returned to work after the strike, they started incorporating these new methods, combining Austrian traditions with new Danish concepts.

The Journey to Racine

During this time, our great-grandfather Anton Olesen found himself widowed and raising six children by himself on low wages.  It became harder and harder for him to make ends meet.  Desperate, he decided to travel to the U.S., look for work and hopefully earn enough to bring his children overseas to join him.  It did not go precisely as he had hoped.  For some time, he earned as little as $32 per month on a local farm, sending $30 of that sum back home to his family.  Demand only decreased during the winter months; at times, he earned no more than 50 cents per day, sending his children $10 out of the $12 that he earned for the month.

A Generational Bakery Is Born

Racine baker Christian Olesen In 1922, Anton’s luck began to turn around.  He found steady work paying $5 per day — enough money to allow him to bring one of his sons over to live with him.  By the following year, all of his children had come to join him in Racine.  His son Christian — our grandfather — landed a job in a local bakery and devoted himself to learning the trade.

Christian couldn’t have known at the time that he was setting the stage for the future generations of his family to follow in his footsteps — but follow we did.  Be on the lookout for the next installment of Our Family History to see how Christian’s son, Ray, and daughter-in-law, Myrna, took a small bakery to new heights with new locations and ways to share their Kringle far and wide.

Get Danish Kringles from O&H Danish Bakery Delivered Straight to Your Door

Today, we remain committed to producing high-quality Kringles along with other delicious pastries and desserts.  Our kitchens still contain the same passion, attention to detail and baking methods that we learned from our grandfather.  We make each Kringle carefully and from scratch, and we never take shortcuts or skimp on quality ingredients.  Order yours today, and we’ll deliver it straight to your door.

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